Help Comes in Pairs
Parent-child volunteer efforts are a good teaching tool
What if there was a way to pry your kids from their iPhones and give back to the community at the same time? There’s not a parent within a 50-mile radius of here that wouldn’t jump at the chance. Did you know that Fairfield is home to a few organizations that have opportunities for families to do charitable work together?
The National Charity League (NCL), which launched in Southern California in 1925, is an organization set up to provide mothers and daughters an opportunity to volunteer together. While nationwide, the organization opened a branch here in Fairfield just last year. Denise Stone, who regularly volunteers with her 16-year-old daughter and her 17-year-old son, heads up the fast-growing chapter.
Its mission is to foster the parent/child relationship particularly at an age when communication often breaks down. By working together on a project—whether at a local food pantry or spending time tutoring kids at Bridgeport’s Cardinal Sheehan Center—the two generations come together to make a difference.
At NCL, girls typically start volunteering in seventh grade and continue until 12th grade. Stone noted that the more time you can spend together, the less trivial things hurt your relationship. “The minute you get outside yourself by helping someone else, you think, ‘Now what were we even arguing about?’” she said. “You’re making memories with these common shared events.”
Unfortunately those memories are not being made that often. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the volunteer rate dropped to 25.4 percent, or 62.6 million people, in 2013. That’s the lowest rate since 2002. More women than men regularly volunteer with the highest age demographic being the 30 to 44 year olds at a rate of 30.6 percent. Interestingly enough, teens volunteered 26.2 percent of the time, which was well above their 20-something contemporaries.
Melanie Andrews, the financial administrator at Trinity Episcopal Church in Southport, volunteers through NCL with her twin 15-year-old daughters. The girls have a monthly meeting to talk about leadership roles and the volunteer projects available. They pick which ones they want and schedule it with Melanie. This past May, they helped sort food at the Fairfield Theatre Company for the Operation Hope Food Drive. For Andrews, the Food Drive at FTC was the single most eye-opening experience. Donna Schmidt, Operation Hope’s volunteer organizer, thanked all the volunteers for their help and with a sweeping motion of her hand, Schmidt indicated the room full of goods. “She told everyone there, ‘I know this looks like this should last a year,’” recounts Andrews, “but this won’t make it to Thanksgiving.’” Schmidt is thrilled to have young people on board helping out. “The teens feel a sense of accomplishment and they serve as role models for others,” she explains.
But what if you have sons and not daughters? Denise Stone has the answer. She also heads up SASO, or Students and Athletes Serving Others. Pronounced “Say-so,” the tag line is “If you need help, just SASO.”
This organization is the male version of NCL with the one difference that boys start in high school not middle school. Trish Donelan, a mother of two girls and two boys, volunteers with both NCL and SASO. For her, the mother/daughter connection was a no brainer. With her son, it was a bit of a different story. “It’s hard to get a 17-year-old boy psyched about it,” she said of her oldest child. “But he has found some rewarding projects to work on.” The Donelans have volunteered at Operation Hope, Bridgeport Rescue Mission, and Cardinal Sheehan Center.
Eileen Flora has been volunteering at Operation Hope for a number of years with her two boys who love it. Flora said that while there’s nothing wrong with giving money, it just makes a greater impact when you participate as a family. “Having them actually do something instead of giving $5, you have a much stronger connection.” Her 17-year-old son, Jeff, agrees. “It creates more of a bond between me and my mom,” he says.
Jackie Katz who has three kids aged 11 to 17 also volunteers with them at Operation Hope. She relayed an incident in which her youngest daughter helped her serve at a local soup kitchen. “The first time I went with her, she saw her former bus driver,” says Katz. “That had such an impact. It just made it so real. There are people in this community that need help.”